A lot of video games come out every single week. Even if you limit yourself to only big, retail releases (ignoring smaller independent games, which would be a mistake) the market is very crowded, and it can be hard to know what to spend your money on.
Here are some quick thoughts on some recent video game releases that you might want to pay attention to.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
You thought Marvel's latest Avengers movie was the king off all crossovers? I present to you Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which is an all-out tribute to video games as an entertainment medium.
Like fans of the series would expect, at it's core it's a hectic fighting game for up to eight players at a time that crams the screen with craziness. In a single match, Mario can be fighting Donkey Kong, Zelda and Samus on a battlefield inspired by Animal Crossing as a Pokemon hurts one opponent and a fire flower hurts another. While it can be tailored for serious, competitive play, much of the joy in Smash Bros. comes from the explosion of activity that can happen in every second of a match.
While the bulk of the game is centered around Nintendo's own history, there is also a massive amount of references and Easter eggs that pay homage to other influential video games from over the decades. Not only are characters like Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, Final Fantasy's Cloud and Castlevania's Simon Belmont playable, you'll also see appearances from games like Wrecking Crew, Advance Wars, Golden Sun and Shovel Knight.
Gris (Switch, PC)
This watercolor-like game will draw you in with its gorgeous visuals, but it's beautiful beyond its aesthetic. A wordless, nearly-textless adventure, Gris is all about a girl bringing light and color back into her world -- literally and figuratively. Its side-scrolling gameplay is easy to pick up and understand, and its lack of death or combat eliminates the stress you might feel from other games, but the journey doesn't deprive you of a sense of accomplishment, either. A good game to play while bundled up on your couch during a holiday break.
Nairi: Tower of Shirin (Nintendo Switch, PC)
A charming, point-and-click adventure similar to classics like Shadowgate, Nairi features a cute cast of characters (both human and animal) in a story that is Prince Caspian-esque. It has solid puzzles to solve, enjoyable writing and a pleasing art style. Playing with the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controller isn't quite as enjoyable as using the system's touch screen or a mouse on the PC, but it's a low-priced gem that's worth playing regardless of how you manage it.
Below (Xbox One, PC)
Below tells you almost nothing about itself, relishing any instance where it can withhold information and keep you guessing instead. After an incredibly long intro cutscene (during which you see little but clouds. Really.), your single adventurer lands on a beach with little but a sword and shield. There is no stated goal for you other than to do as the name implies and journey "below," making your way lower into a complex cave system full of monsters and traps.
Along the way you'll cook food (important, as hunger is a game mechanic), craft items and stumble upon mysterious symbols and pathways, all the while soaking in a moody atmosphere delivered by solid art and sound design. The challenge isn't easy and there won't be much help along the way, but it's the kind of experience that certain players will relish diving into.
Battle Princess Madelyn (Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC)
With a story frame that echoes The Princess Bride and action that is reminiscent of Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Battle Princess Madelyn might appeal most to those who have a lot of nostalgia for their pop culture of yesteryear. The side-scrolling action will have you running, jumping and throwing weapons at all sorts of monsters on one woman's quest to save her home. The only problem? You're likely to get lost, and not in a fun way, as the game gives you freedom to explore without effectively telling you where you should go next.
Tetris Effect (PS4)
If you press me to name the greatest video game of all time (not my "favorite," but the best), I would probably say Tetris. It's as close to perfect a game as we've ever seen, after all. It's seen dozens of iterations over the decades, but how to you really improve on that basic formula? Blocks of different shapes fall from the sky, and your job is to arrange them as efficiently as possible, clearing "lines" of blocks when they stretch neatly from one side of the screen to the other.
Tetris has such an effect on people's minds that it has been studied extensively by scientists, even spawning the name of a cognitive phenomenon called "the Tetris effect," from which the newest version of Tetris gets its name.
Tetris Effect is at once the most zen-like and the most trippy Tetris game you have ever played -- even if you don't play it in virtual reality (which I highly recommend, if you have the means). Led by game developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi (famous for other sensory blockbusters Rez and Lumines), Tetris Effect takes everything about Tetris that feels good and makes it feel even better. Block movement makes sound in conjunction to a great music soundtrack, which makes you subconsciously want to drop Tetrominos in time with the beat. Stunning particle effects and backgrounds, meanwhile, give the entire aesthetic an otherworldly feel.
There's no multiplayer to enjoy with your friends, but there are plenty of modes packed into Tetris Effect that will appeal to you whether you want to challenge yourself for high scores (or experiment with some very different ways of playing the classic game, including a mode that sometimes forces you to play upside down) or simply relax and zone out.
Moonlighter (Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Anybody who has played a fantasy action game or RPG is familiar with the act of exploring a dungeon and walking out of it with a bunch of pretty random stuff, be it weird artifacts found in a chest, slimy bits of slain monsters or, y'know, just random pieces of rock. Usually you can take this junk to a merchant in a nearby town, sell it for gold and then buy stuff that's actually useful, like a new sword.
But what if in addition to being the local adventurer, you were also the shopkeeper?
That's the gist of Moonlighter, a clever and cute adventure in which you need to explore the depths beneath your town in order to stock the shelves of the shop you run. After you get home from fighting monsters (with classic Zelda-style combat) you set out inventory and set prices, being careful not to price things too high (which will make customers mad and lose you sales) or too low (in which case you're only ripping yourself off). It's a charming and addictive combination of gameplay types that offers a fun twist on some classic tropes.
It's now available on the Nintendo Switch (which is the version I've been playing), and it's a fun game to have on the go.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4, Xbox One)
The makers of Grand Theft Auto know how to make a splash with their video game releases. In its "opening weekend," Rockstar Games' epic Western video game Red Dead Redemption 2 broke entertainment records by bringing in $725 million. That even tops the amount of money earned by Marvel's juggernaut, Avengers: Infinity War. (Though, keep in mind, a $60 video game and a roughly $10 movie ticket can't exactly be compared like apples to apples.)
According to most critics, the success is well-earned. Red Dead delivers a gripping Western tale with a painstaking attention to detail -- so much so that many modern gaming conveniences, like fast travel, have been toned down or even omitted to preserve a more realistic outlaw experience. A simple example of this: You can cut and style your character's hair and beard, but if you want them longer, you have to literally wait for the hair to grow.
There are already dozens of hours of open-world, single-player action to keep you busy in a breathtaking early America, but the promise of an online multiplayer mode coming soon, this is a game that could potentially keep you occupied for a very long time to come.